Kenya’s dominant telecommunications provider, Safaricom, is launching a cloud computing service today that it says will be the largest on the continent, reflecting the cloud’s emerging importance to economic growth in Kenya and other parts of Africa.
“We are calling it the largest indigenous cloud in Africa,” says George Makori, Safaricom’s senior manager of cloud and managed services, in Nairobi. “The demand is really, really huge.”
Safaricom will provide cheap computing to individuals, entrepreneurs, and large companies alike, though Makori says small and medium-sized businesses, which sustain 80 percent of Kenya’s GDP, might benefit most. “By empowering these [small to medium businesses] through cloud computing, you are increasing the GDP of the country,” he says. Safaricom’s effort joins those of other local cloud providers, such as MTN Business.
In Kenya, traditional IT infrastructure is particularly costly in both absolute and relative terms. Electricity costs about 20 cents a kilowatt-hour—roughly 50 percent more than the U.S. average of 13.5 cents. A server might cost about $5.00 a day to run (more than $1,800 a year), not including cooling and management costs.
Considering that salaries in Kenya average $6,265 for an accountant and $14,588 for an IT manager, that leaves traditional in-house IT infrastructure affordable mainly to well-funded startups and to larger businesses, like insurance companies, banks, and large retailers. And all players, no matter their size, must contend with relatively frequent power outages.
In theory, Kenyans have been able to use the services of large cloud providers such as Amazon and Rackspace. But those who do have faced data latency of several hundred milliseconds or more, because the cloud servers are so far away. Moreover, these two giants require users to pay with a credit card—a barrier to entry for many Kenyans, for whom the mobile payment system M-Pesa is more common.